I’ve always been told that there are two major types of cannabis, sativa and indica. In fact, much of our modern understanding of cannabis is based around this sativa vs. indica divide. But some researchers are now suggesting that these categories may not be as accurate as we previously thought. Are there really differences between sativa and indica strains, and if so what are they?
Physical Differences between Sativa and Indica Strains
There’s no question that visual differences between the two strains exist. This is obvious from the difference between sativa’s long stems and narrow leaves, and indica’s short stems and stocky leaves. Scientists tell us that these attributes exist because the strains developed in different climates. Indicas developed in the Hindu Kush region near Afghanistan, while sativas developed in Central America, Mexico, and South East Asia.
Indicas used their short stems and thicker leaves to conserve water in their more dry and arid climates. Sativas used their long stems and skinnier leaves to maximize respiration in more humid areas.
Sativas are known to grow taller, sometimes up to 18 feet high, while indicas typically are around half that height. Indicas flower earlier at 8-9 weeks, while sativas flower around 12-14 weeks. Another important difference is the amount of buds that each strain produces. Typically sativas produce somewhere between 3 ounces and 1 pound-per-plant, while indica plants usually yield around 2 ounces.
The High – Sativa Vs Indica
Popular culture and even community based strain reviews all point to distinct differences in the sativa vs. indica high. The general understanding is that a sativa strain gives you a more energetic, cerebral, and head centered high. While an indica strain gives you a relaxing, heavier, couch-lock inducing high
The Science – Sativa Vs Indica
However, a recent Canadian study suggests that due to massive crossbreeding between the two types, figuring out exactly what differentiates a sativa from an indica can be incredibly difficult.
Historically strains that had higher THC/CBD ratios were categorized as indicas, while sativas were known to have higher CBD/THC ratios.
However many experts believe that by pushing growers underground, cannabis prohibition caused mass hybridization between sativas and indicas. This led to a genetic mixing between the two species beyond any accurate distinction. Some strains now labeled as a sativa have proven to be almost genetically identical to other strains labeled indica. Furthermore, many sativa strains now have higher THC/CBD ratios, and many indicas have higher CBD/THC ratios.
These findings suggest that we should move away from categorizing strains by the structure of their plants, also known as morphology. Experts argue that instead, a more accurate categorization system could be based upon a strain’s unique cannabinoid and terpene levels. As science further analyzes the true genetic differences between sativa and indica, we may need to re-classify some strains.
But until the science has it figured out, your best bet is relying on strain reviews to know what to expect before you smoke.